Ebony Love is considered by many in the quilting industry to be the top authority in the field of die cutting fabric. The author of The Die Cutter’s Buying Guide and the Big Little Book of Fabric Die Cutting Tips, 2nd Edition, Ebony describes herself as an Accidental Expert.
“I had a crazy idea to make round fabric coasters with pinked edges. I cut a few circles using a template and a pair of pinking shears. If you’ve ever wielded a pair of pinking shears, you know the weight and force required to use them makes your hand ache miserably. After cutting the first set, most people would have abandoned the idea entirely; but instead, I went searching for a perfect way to cut pinked circles.
After a bit of digging, some failed purchases, and other experiments, I found a company who could make something called a custom steel rule die. Fantastic! I called them and told them what I wanted, and they got to work on my custom 5” pinked circle die. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask what I needed to actually use the die. Yes, you guessed it… I didn’t even have a die cutter.
So here I was, with a custom die on order, frantically researching machines to use it. There wasn’t much information provided by the manufacturers so I went online looking for people who had experience with them. I discovered the world of Yahoo Groups where all these quilters were essentially teaching each other through trial and error. Maybe because I was so enthusiastic, people started to email to ask me for advice, and I’d do more research, make recommendations or help troubleshoot their issues.”
The online groups are an excellent resource for quilters new to fabric die cutting. But, at some point, it became overwhelming to navigate the archives. Although the information is THERE — it’s buried under 20,000 messages. Imagine trying to look up a phone number, but instead of an alphabetized phone book, all the names and addresses are randomly jammed into a dumpster. It became increasingly clear that some sort of reference manual was urgently needed.
Although Ebony didn’t think she knew more than anybody else, she had become very visible in the groups, and she had become active in the various communities that support die-cutting quilters. She’d also started posting how-to videos on YouTube and she knew she had a knack for explaining things to people. She was eager to share everything she’d learned with anybody who was interested, so in 2012, she wrote and published The Big Little Book of Fabric Die Cutting Tips, which earned rave reviews.
Ebony’s life has always been a blend of art and other pursuits. She is a degreed engineer who works full time for a large consumer packaged foods company in information technology, but she has always been a “maker.” When she was in elementary school, she made satin and lace heart shaped pillows and sold them to teachers and other students. During high school, she made costumes for the drama department, and in college she supplemented her income making evening gowns and accessories.
She came to the “quilting thing” pretty late. After college, she stopped sewing for a while. She got back into sewing and quilting because her friends were getting married and having babies and she started making quilts for them. At one particular baby shower, when her pregnant friend opened Ebony’s quilt, everybody wanted one, and she soon found herself making custom quilts in her spare time.
Ebony started LoveBug Studios as a custom quilt business. Although making quilts sparked her creative fire once again, it was hard to keep up with the demand. It was draining from an artistic perspective. Customers were way more concerned with getting what they wanted or envisioned than feeding Ebony’s creative spirit. She realized two things: she really didn’t like doing commissioned work and supplanting her own ideas with someone elses, and there’s no way to make money customizing quilts unless you quilt for Oprah.
She needed to find a way to create something once and reach many more people with that effort. Instead of making one quilt for one person, she needed to figure out how to make one quilt for many people. LoveBug Studios changed focus from people who want quilts to people who want to MAKE quilts. As a degreed engineer, Ebony has a passion for finding efficiencies, and her love of the precision of die cut quilts seemed like a good direction for LoveBug Studios.
Ebony says, “I love die cutting because it really helps me to get past the points that I don’t love so much and get to the part that I do. If I can crank out all the pieces I need for a queen sized quilt in a few hours and just get to sewing as soon as possible, I can see my efforts more quickly.”
The efficiency of die cutting quilt pieces led to other problems though: because she was churning out so many quilt tops she couldn’t get them quilted fast enough, so she had to buy a long arm.
Ebony thinks of herself as a cruise director or a concierge, and she wanted to create meaningful experiences for people and help them grow in their craft. That desire manifested itself into her popular mystery quilt alongs.
- Ebony’s mystery quilts are based around a theme. She’s done three so far focused around Downton Abbey. The current one is “Dear Laura,” based on the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
- Three to four months before the event actually begins, people go to the LoveBug Studios website to register. The cost typically ranges from $10-$30, depending on the quilt.
- When the quilt along starts, Ebony releases a new block once per week, and people can download the pattern, watch videos to show how the block goes together, or read through a photo tutorial. Quilt alongs last anywhere from 3–12 weeks depending on the project.
She also has weekly webinars (fans call them W-Ebony-ars) where participants chat and sew together and ask questions. People can get kits of fabric from the website or from participating quilt shops. She also provides a forum where they can get help, and there’s a Facebook group where they gather to chat and share and post photos.
In the spring she’ll be doing another Downton Abbey quilt, and the summer will be a Quilt Around the World Mystery. In 2017 she’ll be doing an Anne of Green Gables Mystery. Ebony says, “They are great fun, and it’s pretty neat to be able to connect quilters from around the world.”
Even though LoveBug Studios is Ebony’s “side business” — it has taken over her life and home. She moved the long arm out of the basement and into the living room so she could use the basement as a warehouse and shipping center.
About inspiration, Ebony says, “for me, inspiration always starts with an idea. Not an idea for a quilt, but an idea for an experience. I envision how I want people to interact and what I want them to take away. For example, when it comes to my Downton mysteries, I think about the show and the characters and the plot points, and how I can tie the story line into the quilt, what things might evoke a certain memory for someone or get them to really make a connection to the quilt or the process of making it. When someone looks at a quilt they’ve made from one of my patterns, I want them to remember the fun they had making it, or what they learned, or the perseverance it took to finish.
My full time job is about sitting in front of a computer or in meetings all day. It’s hard sometimes to make the connection between what I do and some family out there grocery shopping and buying the food we make and feeling like I was part of that experience. But the work I do with LoveBug Studios is very connected. I can see the results of my efforts, and the impact it makes. People give me feedback and I can take that and incorporate it into the next project. I love being part of a community that is happy and joyful and sharing in their love of quilting. No matter what our differences may be outside of quilting — we have at least that one thing in common and that’s what matters.”
Ebony’s Big Little Book is going into a second edition.
She is also working on a new book, The Die Cutter’s Buying Guide. If anyone is interested in getting notified when the book is released, please sign up for a notification here:
To learn more about fabric die cutting, check out Ebony’s blog post: